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In the forest, the trees were so tall, they seemed to reach the clouds.  The dark, damp, misty quiet around them gave the forest an eerie feeling.  There were animals in the forest; deer, elk, squirrels, and chipmunks, and in the evening a rabbit might cross their path. They were convinced that larger animals must be there as well, as they came across scat that announced the presence of bears and, possibly, mountain lions.  They carried long pointed sticks to protect themselves.  Justin, Jake, and Elan kept to narrow paths left by migrating animals.  The paths were soft, cushioned by a pine needles and leaves.  Along the paths were ferns, some as high as the boys were tall. They had been walking for weeks living off the bounty of the forest and what they were able to carry with them.  The fish were plentiful in the streams they crossed, and it was easy to spear them with their sharp sticks.  The days were getting shorter, the nights cooler, and rain came more frequently, usually in the form of a heavy mist that nevertheless soaked them deeply. 

            “How much farther do you think we have to go before we reach home?”  Jake asked.

            “I don’t know?”  Justin responded.  “I believe if we are walking in the right direction, we will eventually get there.” 

            “If the ocean is to our left, and the mountains are to our right, and we haven’t strayed too far east, we should be headed north. “ Elan concluded.  “The sun comes up in the east over there.“ He pointed to his right, “therefore those mountains are the eastern mountains.”

            “Great,” Jake said irritably.  “That is all correct, but how far do we have to go before we get home.”

            “I don’t know,” Elan returned.  “Don’t be so impatient.  Just put one foot in front of the other and have faith that you will eventually get to where you are going, as long as we are walking in the right direction.”

            “Patience?” Jake sighed wearily.  “Patience?”

            “Yes," Justin chimed in, "you won’t get there any faster if you become impatient, and you are wasting energy by agitating about it.  It makes you unhappy and annoys those around you.  Instead of fussing about the time you feel you're wasting by having to be patient, enjoy the time you get to spend in this strange forest.  You may never be here again.  Take a big breath, let it out slowly, and refocus your attention on walking and the beauty around you.” 

            “Not easy,” Jake mumbled as he took a deep breath as suggested by his brother and looked around. The forest was beautiful but forbidding.

            They continued to walk, and the morning was soon spent.  The sky darkened; the air became cooler.  It wasn’t long before rain began to fall in a fine mist.  They covered themselves with their canvas blankets and walked on.  The sky became darker and the rain increased.  No longer a mist, drops fell steadily.  The path took them through dense foliage.  The long green fronds of the ferns bent by the weight of the raindrops as the water ran off them onto the ground.  The birds had abandoned the sky, and the moss, on the north side of the trees, seemed to glow in the dim light.  The patter of rain, though soothing to the ear, made them wet and uncomfortable.  The forest became all the more dark and even more forbidding.

            “Jake and Elan,” Justin called to get their attention.  “Do you see that?”  He pointed to an exceptionally large redwood tree, in the middle of which, at ground level, there appeared to be a door.  “Do you suppose that is someone’s home?” 

            The door was smooth in contrast to the roughened bark of the tree.  They saw this as an opportunity to get out of the rain and hoped that someone was home. They walked quickly up to the door and knocked.  A round disc in the middle of the door covered a peephole.  They heard steps behind the door.  Then, the disc seemed to magically slide aside, and the boys assumed they were being watched. 

            “I’m Justin, this is Jake and Elan,” Justin spoke to the peephole.  “We’re very wet, and we’d hoped we could come in to get out of the rain.” 

              “Welcome!”  They heard someone call from inside and were relieved that someone was there, appeared friendly, and gave them prospect for having shelter from the rain.

            The door opened, and they were able to step into a room carved into the tree.  They were not surprised by the spaciousness of the room given the circumference of the tree.  The entry hall was dark.  They placed their gear on hooks attached to the wall and took off their shoes so as not to soil the shiny wooden floor on which they stood.  The owner of the dwelling led them upstairs that brought them to a second floor more brightly lit than the foyer below.   Candles illuminated the second floor, and   windows emitted additional light. The room was partitioned into a sitting area and a kitchen.  Along the wall, a stair spiraled up to yet another floor where the boys presumed there was a bedroom.  The owner took a seat on a stool and asked them to sit.

            “Thank you for letting us into your home so that we can get dry,” Justin said.

            “My pleasure.”  The man said. He appeared older than they were, old enough to be their father.  He wore a gray shirt, the sleeves rolled to mid-forearms, and jeans.  His boots came up to mid-calf and his pants were tucked into his boots.  His arms and legs were long and appeared gnarled like the tree limbs of the tree in which he lived.  “My name is Happiness, you can call me Hap.  I am grateful to have your company.  What brings you to this forest?"

            "We are on our way to the Valley of the Black Dog," Jake said.  "Do you now the way?"

            "I know that at the northern end of a great lake that is in the mountains, there is a stream that leads to a valley.  I believe that is the Valley of the Black Dog," Hap answered.  "I have never been there, and I'm not sure how far it is.  The lake is like a long narrow inland sea nestled in the mountains."

            Jake was excited just to know that they were on the right path. 

            "How did you come to live here?"  Elan inquired.

            "I live alone," Hap responded.  "I was on a trek, so long ago, that I've forgotten where I was headed.  I found this tree with the center partially cut away, I’m not sure how or why.  It was beautiful here, quiet, and peaceful.  I carved the living areas out carefully in order to preserve the tree, so my home remains living as well as lived-in, a truly symbiotic relationship.  My native village is no more than a 2-day walk from here.  I can travel home frequently, if I desire, to see family and friends.  People are always happy to see me, and I am happy to see them.  "The boys listened to Hap, whose voice was soft and kind. “My parents named me Hap,” Hap continued, “short for Happiness.  It seems I’ve never been very unhappy, at least not for very long; and, wherever I go, I seem to bring happiness.  So, I am aptly named.  Things don’t always go well for me, I make mistakes, things break, some days I have less to eat than others, and, sometimes, I even become lonely living in the forest the way I do.”

            “And, none of that makes you unhappy?”  Jake asked.

            “No, because my happiness comes from within me.  So, when I lose happiness, I just have to remember from where my happiness comes.  It would be a shame to solely rely on external sources for happiness. Happiness would be much too easy to lose, and true happiness could constantly elude you.   One should not be dependent on things for their happiness.  Always knowing from where my happiness comes is a great comfort, because I always know where to find it, should it ever disappear.”

            “Are there keys to finding happiness?  I mean, what do you do when lose it?"  Jake asked.

            Hap smiled back at Jake. "When I temporarily misplace it, you mean, because I’ve never permanently lost it. I always know where, or better yet, how to find it.  Happiness is in my head, and I can bring out happiness by doing certain things.  When I feel anxious, upset, or sad, I label my feelings, and that way, I acknowledge them.  I don't deny or try to hide those bad feelings. That makes me happy.  I think about what I need to do to make me feel better. Just doing that makes me happy.  I make a plan and decide to act on it.  Making a decision to do something makes me happy.  Most importantly, I am grateful, for all that I have and who I am.  Thinking about those things for which I am grateful makes me happy.  Being around other people makes me happy.  For that, I can always go home.  That makes me happy and it makes others happy as well.  Those are my keys to happiness." 

            The room brightened as the rain stopped and sunlight, albeit muted by the tall trees around them, streamed in through the windows.  The boys were thankful that they had gotten out of the rain, and even more thankful that they’d found Happiness.  They were dry and wanted to continue on their journey.  Hap asked if they could stay, and they stayed long enough to share lunch.  Hap, like his tree home, seemed brighter, and happy for the wisdom he was able to share.  Once they finished eating, the boys said good-bye and started on their way once again. 

            Jake looked around as he walked behind Elan and Justin in silence. They had decided to head northeast towards the mountains in search of the inland sea and the gateway to the Valley of the Black Dog. The sky was visible in patches of blue through the mesh of branches whose pine needles glistened from the rain. He thought about how grateful he was for the beauty that surrounded him and the companionship of his brother and cousin.  They were instituting their plan.  Jake broke the silence and said aloud, though mostly to himself, “Ain’t no stopping us now.”


Bio:  Pete Barbour likes enjoys deconstructing stories to see how they are put together.  He grew up loving the Wizard of Oz series, and dutifully read each book in the series to his children. Barbour and his wife love to travel, giving him a rich experience from which to write. He has posted stories at, and, as well as,  More recently, short stories have appeared in The Piker Press, Rue Scribe, and Art Post Magazine. He wrote and illustrated a children's picture book, "Gus at Work".  Please visit his webpage, Pete Barbour Stories and Illustrations at




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